Social Theory as a Cognitive Neuroscience

Document Type


Publication Date



cognitive neuroscience, connectionism, imitation, Mead, practices, simulation, Spencer

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)



In the nineteenth century, there was substantial and sophisticated interest in neuroscience on the part of social theorists, including Comte and Spencer, and later Simon Patten and Charles Ellwood. This body of thinking faced a dead end: it could do little more than identify highly general mechanisms, and could not provide accounts of such questions as `why was there no proletarian revolution?' Psychologically dubious explanations, relying on neo-Kantian views of the mind, replaced them. With the rise of neuroscience, however, some of the problems of concern to earlier thinkers, such as imitation, have revived because of the discovery of neuronal mechanisms, or through fMRI studies. The article reviews the history and discusses the implications of current work for the reconsideration of traditional social theory concepts. It is suggested that certain kinds of bridging work with neuroscience would enable us to answer many questions in social theory that empirical sociology has failed to answer.

Was this content written or created while at USF?


Citation / Publisher Attribution

European Journal of Social Theory, v. 10, issue 3, p. 357-374